SSX - Gravity Kills

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Reunions can be bittersweet, especially when they’ve been a long time coming. You find out that things aren’t exactly as you remembered them, and that there have definitely been some changes in the time you’ve been apart. Aside from hardcore fans and those prone to bouts of irrational nostalgia, there wasn’t a lot of clamouring for a new SSX title. Extreme sports aren’t the hot property they once were, and it’s been a while, since we last saw a successful snowboarding game.

 

The good news is that the new SSX is still about snowboarding. You don’t get off your board and walk around, or get into any of those other emergent gameplay diversions that a lot of the games now just love to throw at you. It’s snowboarding pure and simple; with the addition of RPG-esque customization for your boarder. 

 

The game takes a cue from SSX3, which came with a solitary (although massive) mountain with various drops, or events, on it. This template has been expanded to include nine different real world ranges from across the planet with each of them home to a handful of well (and not so well) known peaks, and which in turn host a range of drops, each of a different event type. These events are usually either trick events or race events, or variations on the two, but you’ll also find survival events in the form on deadly descents and avalanche runs.

Can't touch this

Can't touch this

 

There are three modes to choose from on the deceptively sparse main menu. The World Tour is the obligatory single player mode that acts as little more than a tutorial for what comes after it. Explore mode, on the other hand, goes over the same ranges and mountains, but jam-packs 150-odd drops into it. That’s a lot of content to go through, and they’re also free from the awful attempt at story and cutscenes that will have you rolling your eyes, as you play through the World Tour. 

 

Global Events, the last option, is SSX’s requisite multiplayer suite. Note that SSX has no real-time multiplayer, but instead has you competing against your friend’s times or against ghosts, or against challenges that are generated from the playthroughs of the otherwise random user base. This works as brilliantly as it did in Criterion’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and allows players who are usually intimidated by traditional competitive multiplayer to enjoy the game at their own pace.

 

Races and trick events are more or less self-explanatory, with tricks building up boost that you can use to elevate off ramps, if you’re tricking or zip past opponents if you’re racing. And boy does the racing feel great! There’s a magnificent sense of speed to careening down mountains on a plank of synthetic. The trick system is also well balanced in its difficulty. Enterprising players should be able to put together chains of intricate tricks, with the game letting you perform single or double handed grabs on all four corners of your board, spins using the right stick, as well as tweak your basic tricks using the shoulder buttons.

Not too late to call it off?

Not too late to call it off?

 

Performing these tricks procedurally builds your Tricky meter, which then allows you to perform a set of even more outlandish moves. The difficulty curve is well balanced in that almost everyone can pull off a flashy run, and the risk of wiping out is mitigated by the ability to pull off a safe landing by just stopping your button mashing. You’ll have to try quite hard to wipe out as well, which is fine considering how challenging the game’s courses can be. 

Avalanches have you racing downhill at the wrong end of a physics driven wall of snow. This works from a reverse camera angle, which isn’t as unwieldy as you might think. Deadly descents are quasi-boss battles that involve you tackling a treacherous mountain on your own. Each descent has a characteristic hazard that you must plan for, ranging from rocks, trees, blizzards, and more. 

 

These descents also make the most use of the game’s randomly generated items that you’re allowed to equip your boarder with. There are oxygen masks for thin air, pulse goggles for blizzards, armor to protect against bumps and scrapes, andwingsuits to glide over crevices. The better your equipment’s rating, the greater is your survival probability for that course. Aside from these items, you also have snowboards, suits and mods than you can use to enhance your chosen snowboarder with.

 

While extremely detailed and beautifully themed, the speed at which the game moves might make it a tad difficult for lesser skilled players to perform at the same level as the hardcore, but it isn’t anything that a bit of dedicated practice won’t fix. It also doesn’t help that the controls can feel twitchy when the breakneck speed and complex courses require you to make quick, precise control inputs. And the courses really are grand, strewn with plenty of detail, obstacles and bottomless pits that you need to circumnavigate to reach the finish line.

I really hope I can land in one piece

I really hope I can land in one piece

 

It can be frustrating when the game devolves into an exercise in rote learning on some of the more complex courses. Perhaps sensing this, you’re also given the ability to rewind the action indefinitely, with the only consequence being that your opponents don’t stop racing as you fix your mistakes. Whether this is enough of a handhold for a casual audience that’s so used to easier difficulties these days, is hard to say.

 

As hairy as the action gets, there’s no time when the game doesn’t look spectacular. You’ll notice rare minor instances of slowdown, but the experience is otherwise near flawless. There is agood density to the particle effects on show when the weather acts up, and the trails that your board leaves are also quite detailed. What’s quite noticeable, however, are the low-res textures used for the insides of the helicopters you drop out of. It’s unfortunate because what follows once you’ve dropped is very well done.

 

The audio also stands out, not for the environmental effects (which are brilliant, mind you), but for the soundtrack. Culled from various genres and mixed in real time to your performance on the course, the tracks are as much the stars as the mountains themselves. Hearing Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky” fade in as you go into Tricky mode is an experience only videogames can give you.

That looks safe

That looks safe

 

No one asked for another SSX game. That said, the game that they did put out seems to be a nice balancing act between the old and the new. There’s a lot of replay value here as well, providing you can live with the trial and error approach that some of the later stages require. Coming at a time when there’s a distinct lack of activity in the alternative sports arena, SSX is an easy recommendation. And the biggest compliment you can give it is that genre aside, it’s a damn good game in its own right.


Published Date: Mar 14, 2012 04:37 pm | Updated Date: Mar 14, 2012 04:37 pm